By Ruzanna Stepanian
The editor of an Armenian pro-opposition newspaper serving a prison sentence for draft evasion has suspended a hunger strike which he began last Friday after being denied an early release from jail, his lawyer said on Monday.
Arman Babajanian of the newspaper “Zhamanak Yerevan” refused food in protest against a state commission’s refusal on Thursday to set him free on parole.
Under Armenian law, convicts who have displayed good behavior and served at least one third of their prison sentences are eligible for parole. The commission appointed by the president of the republic has the exclusive authority to approve or reject relevant requests from them.
Babajanian’s petition was rejected despite being seconded by the administration of Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison where he is being kept. The 31-year-old editor went on a hunger strike, demanding an official explanation for what he considers an unjust and illegal decision.
According to his defense attorney Nikolay Baghdasarian, Babajanian agreed to “suspend” the protest on Saturday after being visited by the Nubarashen chief, head of a Justice Ministry department overseeing the Armenian prison as well as human rights activists. He said the prison chief promised that his client’s “legitimate demands” will be met within a week.
“I don’t exclude that he will be granted parole,” Baghdasarian told RFE/RL. “But I don’t know yet what exactly they agreed on.”
The lawyer also said that Babajanian had a stroke recently and remains in poor health. “Arman will wait for one week before deciding what to do next,” he said.
Babajanian was arrested in June 2006 and subsequently sentenced to four years in prison for illegally dodging compulsory military service. The sentence was shortened by six months on appeal last January.
During his trial, Babajanian admitted resorting to fraud after failing to extend the deferment of his military service and moving to the United States in 1998. But he insists that he would not have been prosecuted and jailed had his paper not been highly critical of the Armenian government. In a recent interview with RFE/RL given at the Nubarashen jail, he described himself as a political prisoner and claimed that the authorities are using his case to stifle dissent.